Google’s latest search algorithm update has rolled out globally with some affiliate businesses dramatically impacted by the changes.

May’s site reputation abuse update focuses on specific types of activity it targets and states it will remove low-quality or duplicated content, designed to manipulate search results.

Which affiliate sites have been impacted?
According to Google’s stated spam policies, some of the impacted sites have been hit because of what they claim is site reputation abuse, “when third-party pages are published with little or no first-party oversight or involvement, where the purpose is to manipulate search rankings by taking advantage of the first-party site’s ranking signals”.

Google then lists a series of examples of site reputation abuse, including “a news site hosting coupons provided by a third-party with little to no oversight or involvement from the hosting site, where the main purpose is to manipulate search rankings”.

Over the years many news sites such as The Daily Mail, The Mirror and The Telegraph have built additional revenue streams by partnering with voucher specialists to offer their readers vouchers and discounts. These have been important in helping to fund journalism.

This part of the deals market has been significantly hit, with traffic for some voucher-specific domains down by high, double-digit percentages.

In one instance, SEM Rush reports that one site that had more than 1.6m monthly organic visits, saw its traffic wiped out after the update.

Traditional, dedicated voucher sites do not appear to have been targeted by this update, with many now seeing more prominent positions in Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs) for general voucher code searches. Others have cited third parties working with retailers to build dedicated code pages appearing higher up the search listings.

Are affiliate sites trying to spam the listings?
We asked APMA member, Global Savings Group, which partners with major news portals to offer voucher solutions, to explain how the relationships operate:

“Partnerships between news sites and third-party commerce content providers have played an important role for media publishers for many years, delivering value in multiple ways.

“The success of these partnerships lies in upholding rigorous editorial standards. News sites carefully vet their partners, maintain editorial control over content, and ensure seamless integration within their overall brand. When executed responsibly, these collaborations benefit users, advertisers, and publishers alike.”

In its published guidance, Google states, that penalised content is “typically independent of a host site’s main purpose or produced without close oversight or involvement of the host site, and provide little to no value to users”.

When applied to news voucher sites, Marc Vallverdú, COO, Media & Coupons at Global Savings Group, has firmly rebutted they offer copy-and-paste solutions and that news sites are invested in developing and creating them, “I have observed across a lot of our partnerships how commercial and marketing teams from both sides collaborate closely together to get better content for consumers. 

“Next to the general integration within the overall website of the news partner, there is a lot of work invested in creating joint campaigns to promote the content of the coupon pages across the different properties available, both online and offline.

Savings United is another business which supplies online services to some of the world’s biggest news titles, including The Independent and The Telegraph. Group Commercial Director, Dan Cohen, explains how they have offered greater clarity about how their relationship works, “Our publishers have always been heavily involved in our coupon projects at all levels. But we took Google’s advice to make this clearer to the consumer, show how we work together closely & made significant changes to our platforms during the last few months. 

“I’m not sure Google will go back on its actions & I don’t think that news publishers will stop providing relevant coupons to their audience either, so Google needs to provide clarity and communicate with publishers. We feel that the guidance given by Google doesn’t reflect the actions they’ve taken”.

What has been the fallout?
Networks are reporting that there has been some displacement of revenue from one group of affiliates to another. 

Head of International Partnerships at Tradedoubler, James Maley, added “We will have to wait to understand what the overall impact of this update eventually will look like and will continue to support all our publishers across the network for the overall advancement of our industry. Google’s decision to include third-party sites displaying vouchers and deals within its ‘site reputation abuse,’ policy, appears to have landed far from what was initially intended.”

What next?
The fallout from Google’s move has yet to fully play out. The coupon cull is just one part of the update, with AI-generated content being stripped from the listings alongside additional changes. In its place user-generated content from, among others, Reddit, LinkedIn and Wikipedia is seeing a surge in Google web traffic.

Many are worried that Google will continue to hit affiliate activity and feel if a decision like this can be taken arbitrarily, who will be targeted next? Some believe that Google is removing content that it doesn’t generate revenue from as it looks to replace it with its own content.

The issue has also attracted the attention of journalists outside of the industry who point to Google’s power to make decisions about which sites succeed and fail.

BBC technology journalist, Thomas Germain, writing in the corporation’s Tech Decoded email newsletter, draws attention to the issue, outlining how the latest moves from Google are symptomatic of the power monolithic tech giants can wield over business and our media landscape. 

He points out how news sites’ voucher and discount sections are an important part of their diversified revenue streams, built to counteract their decline of traditional sources of income and fund reporting. In his summary of the couponing changes, he concludes, “many worry that journalism in general is in a death spiral, and this won’t help.

“In the meantime, Google can knock over digital empires and prop up others in mere months – unilateral power with almost no recourse for those affected. The story of the lowly coupon could be one about the future of your internet.”

At The APMA we will continue to champion best practice and transparency. Our publisher members are committed to supporting initiatives that deliver value for brands via a range of promotional methods.

In the second half of 2024, we will deliver a series of projects that will make the affiliate and partner channels the most self-regulated and accountable digital marketing industries.

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